Improvements to photo & video tracking help investigators with child exploitation crimes


Here at NewsChannel 6, we have gotten multiple reports recently about people arrested for child exploitation. These notices have come from local law enforcement all the way up to federal prosecutors.

We wanted to find out if there are more people out there committing these crimes? Or are law enforcement officers catching more bad guys? We went to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s cyber headquarters in downtown Augusta for answers.

“It’s a combination of both,” explains Assistant Special Agent in Charge Charles Kicklighter with The GBI’s Cyber Crimes Center. “You have more people online, but the internet service providers and the companies that own these apps and websites, they have also gotten more proactive about identifying things related to child exploitation that are shared on the internet.”

The U.S. Department of Hustice says the number of CyberTips has increased by 555% since 2010. They credit the increase to the fact that there are more law enforcement officers and private companies using software trained to look for key words or phrases related to criminal behavior.

“A big part of that is OhotoDNA, which was developed by Microsoft, which speeds up the identification process with pictures and videos,” says Agent Kicklighter.

Prior to the development of PhotoDNA, each picture and video had its own hash value. If a criminal changed even the tiniest thing, it changed the hash value, which meant the altered media could avoid a flag. A simple change to the brightness could allow illicit material of children continue to circulate on the internet.

“With the PhotoDNA, you can change the picture, crop it, bigger, smaller, color, whatever and it’s still going to match that picture to the known picture,” Agent Kicklighter describes.

A known picture or video generates a CyberTip that goes to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which is an organization that aids law enforcement across the country.

“Once it goes to [NCMEC], they gather intel on the user, the one who shared the picture, their account. The CyberTip, they’ll send it to, say for instance the GBI since we’re the clearinghouse for CyberTips in the state of Georgia. I believe last year we received over 4,800 CyberTips for the state,” Agent Kicklighter says.

This kind of tracking helps investigators catch the people behind these heinous crimes.

“A lot of the material it’s infants and toddler material so being able to identify those guys and arrest them and prosecute them because they’re all walks of life. It could be a doctor, I’ve arrested police officers. I mean it could be anybody. It could be a truck driver. You just never know,” Agent Kicklighter explains.

We know you hear this reminder all the time; however, Agent Kicklighter says he cannot stress to parents enough, the importance of knowing what they are doing on their phones, tablets and computers.

CLICK HERE to learn more about NCMEC.

CLICK HERE to learn more about ICAC.

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